Former representative of Goodhue County turns 100HASTINGS — When the Great Depression began, Walter Klaus was 18 years old. And it was 55 years ago that voters first elected Klaus as their state representative.
By: Chad Richardson, The Republican Eagle
HASTINGS — When the Great Depression began, Walter Klaus was 18 years old. And it was 55 years ago that voters first elected Klaus as their state representative.
Today, that man turns 100 years old.
Klaus, who has lived in Hastings for four years, had a birthday party in his honor Saturday at Augustana Health Care Center. Friends from all walks of life came to see Klaus, who is still not lacking in ideas when it comes to politics.
Redistricting may not energize many people these days, but for Klaus it is an endless source of passion. During that party he shared his ideas for the state and how it needs a numerical formula when redrawing congressional and legislative districts.
Klaus, formerly of Farmington, Minn., served in the Legislature from 1957-70 and 1973-74, representing parts of Goodhue County as well as Dakota County. He initially ran as a nonpartisan election under the Conservative Caucus.
He served in four districts, in part thanks to redistricting.
In between all the political banter Saturday, lunch was served in addition to a big chocolate cake with 100 candles on it. Pictures of Klaus in his younger years were arranged throughout a downstairs therapy room and guests pored over them all.
Klaus reminisced about his newspaper column “Klaus on the House.” Many days he’d arrive at the Farmington newspaper with the typewritten copy — not bad for a man who lost one arm during a farming accident long ago.
“I used to watch him type it,” his longtime friend Connie Knack said. “He was always going at it with that typewriter. Then he got a computer, and he would get so disgusted. It would break down on him every time.”
The column got started, Klaus said, because he began sending back reports from the Legislature.
“I rather enjoyed doing that most of the time,” he said.
The party was organized in large part by Knack, who got to know Klaus 30 years ago while he was living on his farm near Empire City, Minn., just west of Highway 52 between Hastings and Farmington.
“We used to go up the road when we moved into Empire, and just go for walks and his cows would be out,” Knack said. “We’d stop in and say, ‘Do you need help putting them in?’ That’s how we met him.”
Eventually, Klaus rented out his farm to Knack and her family. They raised about every animal imaginable there, and he charged her $100 a year for rent.
“He liked having the animals there,” Knack said. “We were there every day.”
Connie Knack’s husband, Allen ‘Nick’ Knack, said he’s also been humbled by Klaus.
“He’s got the memory of a 30-year-old,” he said. “He can remember way back when he was in office, and what happened.”
Klaus graduated from Farmington High School in 1928. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Hamline University. He helped on his family’s farm and began to get more interested in politics as time passed.
He first ran for the state Senate and placed third out of four candidates. Undeterred, he ran in 1956 and beat incumbent Frank Gallagher by just 40 votes.
Klaus began serving in the Minnesota House in 1957. He served consecutively until 1970, and then served for two more years from 1973 to 1974.
In the election of 1970, he lost to Harry “Tex” Sieben of Hastings.
Klaus talked about his first legislative session when John Hartle of Owatonna was the Republican Speaker of the House. It was during an extra session in 1957 that the state shifted toward income tax and away from property tax as the major source of state revenue, and Klaus remembers those discussions.
“That had been very controversial,” he said.
After serving, Klaus stayed active, working with redistricting for many years.
“I was just fascinated with doing it,” he said of his work on redistricting.
He also worked for many years with the census. Redistricting occurs every 10 years when boundaries shift to accommodate population changes.
Klaus married Virginia Taylor on Jan. 13, 1968, at his farm. She died in 2005.
Klaus has one daughter, Caroline Koepp, and two granddaughters.